Great African Reads discussion

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Archived | Regional Books 2018 > Jan/Feb 2018 | Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi NO SPOILERS

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message 1: by Anetq, Tour Operator & Guide (new) - rated it 3 stars

Anetq | 762 comments Mod
This thread is for discussions of out Jan/Feb 2018 read of Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi - with NO SPOILERS (there is a thread with spoilers allowed too) - so feel free to discuss book editions, availability, expectations etc. - when you get into the book, please join us in the spoiler thread!

message 2: by PS, Short Story Reading Chief (new)

PS | 143 comments Mod
I'm so excited to read Homegoing. It's been on my TBR for ages. Looks like lots of people will be reading along! :)

message 3: by Anetq, Tour Operator & Guide (new) - rated it 3 stars

Anetq | 762 comments Mod
Yes it keeps turning up in the recommendations I get for African reads, so I am looking forward to this too!

message 4: by Wim, French Readings (new) - rated it 4 stars

Wim | 801 comments Mod
I am also excited to read Homegoing. Luckily it is available as e-book, so no worries to get a copy!

Margaret Crampton (cramptonmargaret) | 49 comments I have just read Homegoing It is one of the most brilliant books I have ever read. Difficult to believe the author is only 26 years old. This is an author to watch.

Margaret Crampton (cramptonmargaret) | 49 comments I wrote a review in Goodreads but don’t know how to link it.

message 7: by Anetq, Tour Operator & Guide (new) - rated it 3 stars

Anetq | 762 comments Mod
Margaret wrote: "I wrote a review in Goodreads but don’t know how to link it."
Hi Margaret - If you go to the page of your own review (click "see review" under your review on the book page) - then copy and paste the URL from your browser into a comment here. But please paste your review over in the SPOILER thread :)

E.Y. Laster | 1 comments "The Asante had power from capturing slaves. The Fante had protection from trading them. If the girl could not shake his hand, then surely she could never touch her own."

This is such an intricately wound story of relationships among families, nations, friends, partners, and enemies. Gyasi reminds us that blame is not a concept for the faint of heart.

message 9: by Diane , Head Librarian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Diane  | 470 comments Mod
I just started this. So far I am really enjoying it.

Katematuri | 1 comments today Amazon delivered Homecoming book, I've started it... I do excited.... the first few pages that I've read reminds me of home (Kenya) as I am currently living in Mexico... a great book to devour in...

Caroline (blackhairbooklady) This book truly is amazing. I read it a while back. It exceeded all my expectations.
Enjoy to everyone else reading it.

message 12: by Anetq, Tour Operator & Guide (new) - rated it 3 stars

Anetq | 762 comments Mod
Excellent to hear you are all enjoying it, I should join you soon :)

message 13: by PS, Short Story Reading Chief (new)

PS | 143 comments Mod
Annette, when do you plan to start reading? :)

message 14: by Anetq, Tour Operator & Guide (new) - rated it 3 stars

Anetq | 762 comments Mod
Sofia wrote: "Annette, when do you plan to start reading? :)"

Sooooooon! First I was reading Anna Karenina, then I've had plumbers for three weeks, planned renovation, but on/off water and some other remodelling at home, so not much quiet reading time, more painting etc...

message 15: by PS, Short Story Reading Chief (new)

PS | 143 comments Mod
Oh wow sounds like a crazy couple of weeks! Ive been distracted myself, but looking forward to reading it with you and any one else who is interested to read it (and hasn’t already read it!).

Send a message when you start reading and I’ll read along! :)

message 16: by Anetq, Tour Operator & Guide (new) - rated it 3 stars

Anetq | 762 comments Mod
Sofia wrote: "Send a message when you start reading and I’ll read along! :) "

It's time: let's go, then!

message 17: by Manu (new) - added it

I think a lot of older African immigrants, or just black immigrants who grew up elsewhere, have a very different sense of themselves racially than immigrants like me. My little brother was born here and has never had a sense of himself as a Ghanaian from having lived there. We all relate differently to race. A lot of older immigrants will tell you that they didn't grow up thinking about themselves as black, and why would they? If you come from a country where everybody looks like you, you don't have to think about yourself racially. Then you go to America where race is the primary thing that defines you—particularly if you are black—and suddenly you're thrust into America's racial issues and having to figure out, "What does that mean for me, when I differ in so many ways—socially, culturally—from African Americans, to suddenly find myself in this new way?"

I’m Ghanaian-American. Am I Black?
I had been brought up to see myself as set apart from what my family called “black Americans,” who stood a rung below what my family called “white Americans.” Neither group was something you wanted to be. In our hierarchy of goodness, Ghanaians were at the top, and nothing else came close.
[At school in Huntsville, Alabama] I was the sole black student in almost all of my classes.
The trouble was that at home, we weren’t black. We were Ghanaian. We played high-life music and ate jollof rice and fried plantains. We rolled deep to graduations and had funerals that could not be outdone. We learned to separate ourselves, so that who we were to the world outside our house would not enter the world inside it.
I went to Ghana the summer after my sophomore year at Stanford to research a novel. I’d arrived with a different novel idea in mind. But when I first stepped into the Cape Coast Castle, a place where slaves were confined before being shipped to the New World, a place just 50 miles from the town where my mother grew up, I couldn’t believe that my family had never talked about it. I thought of how we were so quick to mention the shortcomings of other Americans, but said nothing about our own.

In middle school I was really into Victorian literature. I loved Dickens, I loved Charlotte Brontë, and a little later on I discovered George Eliot. The first book I felt I was deeply moved by, and a book that informed my life, was Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, which I read when I was 17 for class. It was probably the first book I'd ever read for class written by a black woman about black people.

I got to Ghana and my idea was to visit my mother’s hometown in the central region of Ghana because it was a place I hadn’t spent very much time in. My mother is Fante and my father is Ashanti. I was much more familiar with Ashanti than Fante history, so I wanted to go to my mother’s side and see if it sparked anything for me. I wasn’t very inspired, so I took the trip to the Cape Coast castle in the central region where my mother grew up. That trip was important for getting to know the Fante side of things. I also spent some time in Kumasi, so I got to see the Ashanti side as well.
[Do you plan on going to Ghana as part of the book tour?] I would love to do that. I haven’t made any concrete plans.
[Your father is French literature professor. Was it intimidating to give him a copy?]
It was intimidating. I'd never shared any of my work with my parents before. I didn't have a precedent for doing it—I was just too nervous to. Once I signed with my agent I gave my dad the chapters that take place in Ghana just to get some feedback about whether they felt true to the essence of Ghana, and some basic fact checking about spelling and locations and names. He's read about half the book, but not all of it. As soon as I get the finished copy I plan on sending him the first one.
Dr. Kwaku Gyasi
I don’t have a sense of myself as an African-American; I didn’t grow up with African-American parents. I grew up with Ghanaian parents — there’s a difference.
This book constitutes my discovery of and inquiry into questions that I’d always had both as an African immigrant and an African American. I started the book with a question that I put at the top of my screen: “What does it mean to be black in America?” This book is me thinking through a lot of these issues of racial and ethnic identity.
This book would be so different if I had written it in Ghana, or was just American and wrote it from that perspective. It helped to have this sense of being in the middle.
It’s interesting because this book comes from a place of always feeling like I wasn’t Ghanaian enough for Ghana and not African American enough for the United States. So it will also be interesting to see how Ghanaian critics respond to it, because I can imagine getting the opposite side of the critique, where they think my treatment of the African American characters is nuanced. I don’t know what to do about that. I have always existed in this weird, murky space where someone is allowed to say I’m not either thing, if they are that thing.
I don’t know if I identify as a southerner. I was born in Ghana, then I lived in Ohio, Illinois, Tennessee, and then Alabama. I kind of moved around a lot, and in a lot of ways, I think that this book reflects that kind of restlessness of place that I tend to have.
I came from a country that had involvement in the slave trade, then I end up in a place where the effects of slavery are still so strongly felt, and it’s something that wasn’t lost on me, and it’s something that I was sort of unconsciously navigating my entire childhood, going home to Ghanaian parents and being told all the ways that I wasn’t African American, then leaving my house and being African American to the rest of the world, and trying to figure out what that meant for me, and what that meant for my brothers. And all of that is in this book—questions of identity, questions of identity as it pertains to ethnicity and race and country and all of those things are in here. I think if I hadn’t grown up in Alabama, I don’t know that I would have had the same kinds of questions.
This novel started because I took a trip to Cape Coast Castle in 2009. I took a tour, and the tour guide told us about how the British soldiers who lived and worked there at the time used to marry the local women. I just started to be really curious about what other ways Ghana and Gold Coast people, as they would have been called then, were involved in the slave trade.
I was really struck by so many of the things I learned on the tour...just getting to stand in the dungeon and think about what these people had gone through, people who had to stay in the dungeons for three months at a time. It really struck me that to get that kind of information, that kind of experience, you shouldn’t really have to take a trip to Ghana, to a castle. I wondered why I hadn’t heard more about it or read more about it. But then when I finally did start researching more deeply, I noticed a kind of absence in a lot of the books that I was reading. There was an absence of the perspective of Ghanaians or West Africans about this time period, the people who had been in the dungeons, the people who had been married to these soldiers. I realized that their voices didn’t really appear in a lot of these texts. I wanted to, through fiction, give them an opportunity to tell their stories.
I was born there but grew up here, so I had very little sense of Ghanaian history. I felt a lot more comfortable in the African American sections of this book, because I was more familiar with the material. The Ghanaian sections had to be research and constructed, and in that way this book is my trying to connect those two threads of my identity, but also a way of connecting to my own roots in a way I hadn’t done before.
My intention was to not make the novel stiff with research. A lot of people have said, “You must have done a lot of research.” It didn’t feel that much when I was doing it. I did enough to get my imagination flowing, and then I wanted to let the characters do what they were going to do.
And then, I wrote chronologically, and I stopped at the beginning of each chapter to do a little research on whatever it was that I had written. So I would grab a book like Black Prisoners and Their World, before starting a chapter, and I read as much as I could, enough to make me feel like I was in the world. And after that, I closed the research book and let my imagination take over, because I didn’t want it to be all stifled by research.
I was worried about—sometimes I read a historical novel and I feel like it was just an opportunity for the writer to tell you everything that they learned about the history in that time period, and you kind of lose the character and the story and those kinds of things that make me want to read fiction in the first place rather than reading a historical text. And so I didn’t want this book to feel that way, I felt like if I ever came to this crossroads where I have to decide between the plot and historical fact that I was going to choose plot—that was kind of how I approached this.
And so, again, my process was just that I would research at the very beginning of each chapter and then I would close the book and just write. If there were things that I came upon that I needed to do more research on then I would make a note of it, so that after I finished the first draft I could go back and look through my notes and try to research things a little more clearly than I had before to get simple answers. Like, what kind of mallet would he have been holding? Those are things that are less fun to research but still kind of necessary.
I did a lot of research for this novel. I like to say that my research was wide but shallow: I read a little bit of a lot of books. And a book that really helped me was The Door of No Return by William St. Clair. He took a bunch of archival research about the Cape Coast Castle, so it's a book that really just talks about what life might have been like in the castle in and around the 18th century. And it really helped me wrap my head around what it might have been like for my characters. And then the rest I think is just a wild and vivid imagination.
I generally tended to privilege my imagination over historical fact.


Jacques Depelchin, Silences in African History, 2005
Katharina Schramm, African Homecoming, 2010
“... the slave sites may speak to the visitor. But what she actually hears and how it affects her depends on many factors, including her own social and personal background. On that matrix she may form an interpretation of the past, so that it makes sense to her present.”

Aphra Behn, Oroonoko, 1688
Harold Courlander, The African, 1967
Judith Gleason, Agotime, Her Legend 1970
Alex Hailey, Roots, 1976
Lucy Safo, Cry a Whisper, 1993
Manu Herbstein, Ama: A Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 2001
Lawrence Hill, The Book of Negroes (in the U.S.: Someone Knows My Name) 2007
Manu Herbstein, Brave Music of a Distant Drum, 2011
Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing was published in 2016.

message 18: by Wim, French Readings (new) - rated it 4 stars

Wim | 801 comments Mod
I just started reading Homegoing and cannot put it down: wow! Hard to describe how moving it is.

Thank you for the background information Manu. I think I'll read through it once I finished the novel.

message 19: by Jessica (new) - added it

Jessica (jessica_peter) | 26 comments I still want to read this one, but started with our secondary book for Jan/Feb. Ah well, maybe at some point in the next couple months I'll read it and return to the discussion thread!

message 20: by Tinea, Nonfiction Logistician (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tinea (pist) | 406 comments Mod
Thanks for the interviews, links, and books, Manu!

Whitlaw Tanyanyiwa Mugwiji (jjwhitlaw) | 14 comments Thanks for sharing that I interview. When I read the book I felt like the first half of the book was so amazing and in the second half she just tried to hard to join too many stories that had little connection.

I think a lot of older African immigrants, or just black immigrants who grew up elsewhere, have a very different sense of themselves rac..."

Thanks for this heartfelt message, Manu. I loved the first part of the book, set in the castle and the intricate setting of the characters. It felt so authentic. I must admit that I lost connection when too many characters appeared. It was as though I did not have enough time to bond with someone before moving on, you know. Perhaps it was the intention of the book, that I missed, to draw the line through different generations and provide an insight into the environment that shaped them all. It was done very well. However, I wanted to linger with my favorite characters. :-)

Thank you for all the information. And good luck with the book. I am looking forward to your next one. This book was a very good read indeed.

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